Sigh. And sigh again. Happy sighs are these. Because . . . the dragonflies are transforming from their aquatic form to flyers. In either lifestyle, they are predators, but it’s the latter flyer that we appreciate the most. Especially during years like this when the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are prolific. We give thanks, of course, for such prevalence, because these little stinging fliers become odonata and amphibian and bird food, or so we like to pretend that we give thanks. Really, we’re grateful for the insistent buzzing and biting, but even more grateful for those who predate upon them.
The exciting thing about this week is that several of us had the great opportunity to spy some dragonflies eclosing, the act of emerging from their larval forms. So here’s the deal: fully developed aquatic larvae, aka nymphs, crawl out of the water onto emergent grasses, sedges, shrubs, and rocks, split the back of their skin and emerge as winged adults like the one in view here.
Newly eclosed dragonflies lack pigment so identifying them isn’t always easy. Of even more importance, they are extremely vulnerable to predation as they clutch their old skin while pumping air into their bodies and liquid into their expanding wings. One way to note an emergent adult is by the cloudiness of the wings as they set their internal systems in motion. The tough part is that they must wait in this position, unable to escape predators, until wings dry and they can fly. The process can take several hours.
And so it was with great glee that we noticed wee, yet mature Hudsonian Whiteface dragonflies, members of the Skimmer family, flying and posing, flying and posing.
The yellow spot on segment seven (dragonfly abdomens consist of ten segments) is triangular in shape, aiding in the identification as I get my dragonfly eyes back on.
In no time, it seemed, there were dragonflies everywhere. Well, not everywhere for I traveled several trails and realized that those who were emerging tended to be near stiller waters. The Common Baskettail, as this species is known, is a member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds). Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the kryptonite-green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair apparently traps tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.
All that is fine and well and there will be many more odonata references during the next six months as I wonder my way. but today I happened upon one who added to my knowledge bank and I’ll forever celebrate this opportunity to learn more. Do you see the neon green appearing to drip off the wings?
Look closely at the left behind aquatic structure, aka exuvia or cast skin, and you can see the length of the former nymph that helps define this species to family based on its shape: Darner.
Though I first thought this specimen was dead, suddenly it walked along the underside of an old stump beside the water. Try as I could to separate its wings, I was unsuccessful. For some reason they were stuck together. And one was even folded still as it would have been upon first emerging, thus there was green at its tip, though it appeared at first glance to be in the middle of the wing.
Based on the fact that its thorax stripes were already taking on its adult colors, I knew this darner had been trying to reach flight stage for hours. What had gone wrong? What was the neon green? Something must have gone astray as this dragonfly tried to pump hemolymph (Insect fluid like blood) through to its wings to stiffen them for flight.
Hemolymph is made up of water and other characteristics like carbohydrates and amino acids, and also pigments, though the latter are typically clear but may be tinged with yellow or green. In the case of this darner, it seems that green is the color of choice. Had it been able to expand its wings, the fluid would have drained out of the wings and back into the body. Usually, it takes about an hour or more for the wings to reach full length and they have a cloudy appearance as the fluid is pumped into them. They are held together over the back, much like a damselfly, but once the fluid drains out of them, the dragonfly is able to extend the wings and there’s a shiny glint to them until they fully dry and stiffen. And then, in a split second, when one such as me is watching, flight happens.
For some reason, this darner will not know flight, but I gave thanks for the opportunity to see its blood and slow my brain down to think about the process.
To fly or not to fly?: it’s a complicated question.
If you follow me either virtually or in reality, you know that during April and May I spend a lot of time beside vernal pools. And this year is no different. Thankfully, I also get to take others along on the journey, from school children to their parents, and members of the public, plus colleague naturalists in the form of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s volunteer docents.
And so it’s been that this particular pool on a land trust property has received tons of attention this year. We’ve always known it to be special because it’s home to Fairy Shrimp, which just the occurrence of one makes it significant by State of Maine standards.
Vernal pools provide essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including salamanders and some frogs species. At the same time, juvenile and adult amphibians associated with such a pool provide an important food source for small carnivores as well as large game species. Many of these amphibians are pool specific in that they must return to their natal vernal pool to breed, thus making them and the surrounding habitat important and the loss of such would lead to loss of local amphibians, a decrease in biodiversity, and a decline in food available to others who inhabit the surrounding natural community.
Upon visiting this past week, the pool had taken on a new sheen, appearing at first glance to resemble ice. But it was much too warm for that to be the case.
Floating upon the pool’s surface were male Red Maple flowers, the oval items at the ends of slender, threadlike stalks the pollen producing anthers dangling on their filaments and the release of said pollen the cause of the ice-like presentation.
So the exciting thing about this particular pool is that though It has long been a breeding ground for Fairy Shrimp (and mosquito larvae), this year we spotted more of the former than ever swimming along on their backs as they filtered the water and sought a mate.
Though the pollen on the pool may give it a look of being polluted, the presence of Fairy Shrimp actually serve as an indicator of good water quality.
Where a month ago we were scooping up hundreds of these tiny crustaceans, this past week we found only a few, which served as one sign that this is a pool in transition. Their life cycle isn’t long, but if you checked in recently with the post entitled Peering Into the Pool, you’ll have learned a cool fact or two about their existence.
Back to now. Wood Frog tadpoles had suddenly emerged and their egg masses began to disintegrate, though still adding a source of food in the symbiotic relationship with an algal form.
Mosquito larvae and pupae, though still present, were not as prevalent, given that their flying, biting form had begun to hatch.
And then there was another change to note. And it’s a major change in my book of these habitats. Large Bullfrogs had taken up residence.
The wee bit smaller but similar Green Frogs had as well.
How does one decipher between a Bullfrog and Green Frog? First, as you approach a pool and you hear a squeal as a frog jumps from the edge into the water, you know that Green Frogs are in the midst.
And if you finally get to spy one, look for the line behind the eye. If it follows along both edges of the frog’s back, called dorsal lateral folds, it’s a Green Frog.
If, however, the line extends from the back of the eye and wraps around the round disk, or tympanum membrane (think ear), it’s a Bullfrog.
Also, Bullfrogs don’t leap away quite a suddenly as Green Frogs. In fact, they can stay quite still for hours on end.
Once human eyes adjust to the surroundings, shadows may pretend to be frogs, but they aren’t. The real deal, however, lurks at the surface, often only its eyes making its presence known.
Hemlock needles and maple flowers decorate it, and much to my surprise don’t frustrate it. Though some frogs may seem super sensitive to us, they also exhibit a patience not to be matched as they sit and wait.
Oh, did I mention that they were everywhere? Literally.
The thing is. these two frog species weren’t in the pool to breed like the Wood Frogs had been. They, after all, need a permanent water source because their tadpoles take two years at a minimum to morph into adults and a vernal pool that dries up each year would not be suitable. This tadpole was spied at a nearby pond, indicating that perhaps the Bullfrog came from that source to the vernal pool.
So what were the Bullfrogs and Green Frogs doing at the pool? Predating all that live within. Remember what I said earlier, that vernal pools provide food for small and large predators. These would be on the smaller size, though not the smallest.
Perhaps that’s why we weren’t seeing as many Fairy Shrimp this past week. And given the prevalence of these two frogs, who knows what will hop or crawl out of the pool, but we suspect some Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders will make it to adulthood so that they can carry on the tradition of returning to their natal pools to breed.
The thing about visiting a pool such as this with the younger set is that they are bound to make exciting finds. And so one did, locating a Spring Peeper swimming about.
And in the surrounding uplands, another found a Pickerel Frog. We could hear their snoring chorus, so this discovery wasn’t unexpected. But still it was special.
How to tell a Pickerel Frog from a Leopard Frog (the latter a species I’ve only seen a few times): by the spots on its back. The Pickerel’s spots are more symmetrical than the randomness of a Leopard’s and the Pickerel’s spots are outlined while a Leopard’s are not.
And then there was this teeny, tiny American Toad covered with warts and suddenly the ground was hopping with these wee creatures and Spring Peepers and one had to be careful where one stepped.
The final find of the week, an adult Wood Frog with its robber mask making for a sure ID. This one was a poser.
As the vernal pool turns, so do its inhabitants and I give great thanks for the opportunity to learn from it and share it with so many others who add to the lessons.
Dedication: This one is for Nancy Hogan Posey cuze I was going to write about something completely different today and your question turned the page to this one. Thank you.
No need to read on. You know it will be photos of today’s finds. Ho hum.
Our day began as it always does, with a shared piece of CraftonMain Lemon Meringue Pie topped with a raspberry, while we sat and watched this pair enjoy a meal of their own. Wait. We don’t always begin with the pie–but sure wish we could. Cardinals, however, have been blessing us with their appearance for years.
And then there was the sighting of the neighborhood fox in the field beyond our stonewall; it had its eyes on the neighbor’s dogs while we had our eyes on it. Don’t worry, the dogs didn’t become breakfast. In fact, as their mistress began to walk toward the fox (we don’t think she spied it, nor did the dogs or they would have given chase), the fox turned and dashed across the field, over another stonewall and into our woodlot.
At last, it was time to begin our hike along a trail we haven’t visited since August 2019. Our intention had been to climb it in 2020, but during the first year of the pandemic, it was closed and then we never considered it . . . until this morning. And as we started up, I remembered . . . this is the mountain where the Early Saxifrage grows.
It’s also known as rockbreaker for its habit of cleaving to the rocks, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break.
A funny name for such a diminutive and delicate display.
Round-leaved Violet with its scalloped-rimmed leaves more heart shaped than its name suggests also grew along the trail. Spying these tiny offerings of yellow with those incredible magenta runways meant to attract pollinators always brings a smile as if they were meant to brighten the day of all who hike this way.
Our journey found us enjoying the sound of the water’s rhythm as we climbed higher . . .
and contemplating each step once we turned away from the brook.
At the summit, the view from lunch rock included a look to the southeast where the sky predicted the forecast of a front moving in.
Meanwhile, our hometown mountain stood out in the sun.
But the grand lady, Mount Washington, was starting to disappear into the clouds.
It was windy and a bit chilly at the summit, but that didn’t stop the Brown Elfin butterfly from flirting with a few others where the blueberries grow.
I also spotted one Spring Azure. Both are rather small butterflies and if you look closely, you might spot that their antennae are patterned white and black.
On the way down, we did what we often do–looked for bear claw trees because we know they exist here. And because I know such an activity will slow my guy down. 😉 Bingo. He spotted one that was new to us.
I went in for a closer look and couldn’t believe all the marks on display.
And so I began to circle around the trunk.
One can only imagine the crop of Beech Nuts this tree must have offered.
But enough is enough. It’s just another bear claw tree, after all. Nothing to write home about. Or is it? Think about the bear and the blueberries the Brown Elfin Butterfly will help pollinate and the Beech Nuts the trees will produce and all the connections that will be made, which will include the Cardinals and the Red Fox and the flowers and all that is part of the forest. And be wowed like us. It was hardly just another boring mountain mondate on Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine.
If you’ve been following wondermyway for a few years, you know that each spring I make a bee-line for vernal pools, those shallow, short-lived ponds that fill with snowmelt or spring rain for at least several weeks most years, have no major inlet or outlet, and most importantly, no fish. Without fish, reproductive success is more likely for some amphibians, crustaceans, and insects who depend upon these ephemeral water bodies for breeding.
There are four indicator species in Maine that define a vernal pool as significant. Since 2007, significant vernal pool habitat has been protected by law under Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA): “Significant Vernal Pool (SVP) habitat consists of a vernal pool depression and a portion of the critical terrestrial habitat within a 250-foot radius of the spring or fall high water mark of the depression. Any activity in, on, or over the SVP or the 250-foot critical terrestrial habitat zone must avoid unreasonable impacts to the significant vernal pool habitat and obtain approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, either through Permit by Rule (a streamlined permitting process) or full individual NRPA permit.”
Those four indicator species that define such significance: Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders, Blue Spotted Salamanders, and Fairy Shrimp. The pool must contain 40 Wood Frog egg masses, or 20 Spotted Salamander Egg masses, or 10 Blue Spotted Salamander egg masses, or one Fairy Shrimp. I’ve yet to see a Blue Spotted Salamander or its eggs.
Some may see these ponds as oversized puddles, but let your eyes focus and suddenly you’ll realize that they are places teeming with life.
As you do, it might surprise you to spot lots of flying activity just above the pool’s surface. It’s actually Midges on the move, trying to get a date so that there will be even more Midges on the move. They look rather like mosquitoes, but don’t bite, so not to worry.
Male Midges have a longer, more slender body that the females, and they like to posture in attempts to interest one of the opposite gender. They’re actually fun to watch.
Of course, equally, ahem, fun to watch are the larval forms of Mosquitoes as they wriggle and wraggle through the water column, some even forming dense clusters.
If you do some container dipping at a vernal pool near you in order to take a closer look, I trust you won’t dump these onto the leaf litter rather than back into the water. As much as the females annoy us once they morph into that annoying flying insect that needs to suck mammal blood to gain proteins and nutrients for their eggs, they play an important part in the food web.
Especially for warblers such as this Yellow-rumped that was part of a flock that arrived in western Maine this week–just as it should have, being the end of April. It was spotted quite near one of the pools, so I suspect Mosquito Mash will soon be on the menu.
Back to those four indicator species for a significant vernal pool . . . it was this week that while looking close up at some Wood Frog eggs, I realized we had babies in the form of tadpoles.
I saw “we” because mom and dad Wood Frog do not hang around. Once they’ve canoodled and eggs have been fertilized and deposited, they exit the pool and return to their upland habitat, where they spend the next fifty weeks, so it’s up to us to watch over their young ones. Their metamorphosis, or change to adult form, will be completed by late June or earlier should temperatures rise and the pool begin to dry out.
I encourage you , dear readers, to do what I do and stare intently into the leaf litter to see if you can spot some tadpoles. And who knows what else you might discover.
While looking into another section of the pool, you might notice another type of egg mass, this one coated with a gelatinous mass that encompasses all of the eggs. Spotted Salamanders made their Big Night return to the pools about a week or so later than the Wood Frogs, so the embryos are still developing.
I find it fascinating to see the little forms take shape. It’s like looking into a mother’s womb without medical devices.
Okay, it’s time for you to peer into the pool again. This time you are looking for Fairy Shrimp, those tiny crustaceans that are about a half inch long, swim on their backs, and move eleven pairs of legs like a crew team in a rowing shell. Remember, I said one Fairy Shrimp makes a pool significant according to the State of Maine. How many do you see in this photo?
Those in the first Fairy Shrimp photo are males, but females are present as well. The way to identify a female is to look for her two brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.
So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch. One of the pools I’ve been frequenting lately I’d only discovered last year and it had no Fairy Shrimp. The other day when I approached with some volunteer docents from Greater Lovell Land Trust, one exclaimed within seconds of our arrival, “Fairy Shrimp.”
That got me thinking: how is it that we didn’t spot any last year, and this year we started seeing them everywhere. Also, in another pool where we’ve often spied a few, we’ve noticed they are in abundance. Previous to this week, I knew that the eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, but assumed that if the pool flooded each year, they all hatched. It didn’t make sense though that one pool suddenly has shrimp and the other has so many more than normal. It was time to do a little research, and what I learned from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies , is that only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching. So I thought about winter 2021 and how we didn’t have a lot of snow and the temperature was on the mild side. This past winter was much snowier (though not enough still in my book) and much chillier. My unscientific conclusion, based only on limited knowledge and observation, is that conditions weren’t conducive in 2021 at that one pool and so no shrimp hatched. I’m already looking forward to next year.
For your enjoyment I’ve included a video of a Fairy Shrimp moving through a pool this past week. Fairy Shrimp indicate unpolluted water, so finding one is significant. Finding so many . . . bliss.
When you are peering into the water for such a long time, other life forms make themselves known, such as Predacious Diving Beetle larvae, aka Water Tiger. Just like the adult this insect will morph into, it eats everything including tadpoles and insects, and even its siblings sometimes.
It wasn’t just the docents and I who had fun at the pools, but also a group of middle school students I have the immense honor to work with each Friday and yesterday they enjoyed documenting life at the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year. Quiz yourself on ID of the species one student scooped up in this bug box. And rest assured that these critters were released back into the pool after being studied for a few minutes.
As I said, I’ve done a lot of scanning this week, including on a couple of solo trips, and it was on one of these that I made one of my favorite discoveries: a Caddisfly larvae. In larval form, Caddisflies are resourceful architects who repurpose their surroundings to create their homes. Sometimes I find them constructed of hemlock needles topped with a maple flowers, and a friend sent a photo today of one she found who had built its house of grains of sand. My find . . . in the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year: a mobile home built of leaves. It was so well camouflaged that only the movement made me realize what was before my eyes.
Larval Caddisflies eat various types of detritus, including bits of leaves, algae, and miscellaneous organic matter so they, too, are important as they break down what is in the pool.
If it wasn’t that I need to eventually find my way home and make dinner, I’d probably still be out there. But yikes, it’s 7:00pm, and I haven’t even started dinner, and my guy will be home from work soon, so I’d better get going.
If you are looking for me in the next few weeks, however, I’ll be the one with hands on bent knees as I hunch over the pool. Join me and we can peer in together.
Make each mind-filled step count as it presents reminders of wonder . . .
whether beside rushing waters that nourish with sight and sound,
or along mountain ledges where one is reminded that gravity holds us down.
Admire first the Trailing Arbutus as you drop to a knee to take in the sweet scent of spring enclosed within its delicate petals.
Don’t overlook the tiny fly seeking nourishment from Coltsfoot, pollinator at work upon a flower whose modified leaves give it an otherworldly appearance.
Notice the wee fiddleheads rising up beside Polypody ferns,
their hairy crosiers so minute that if you don’t search under leaves and moss, you’ll surely miss them.
Let the Eastern Comma Butterfly entertain as it dances up and down a forest trail,
occasionally pausing to allow onlookers to spot the tiny white comma, for which it was given its name, on its hind wing.
Let the past also astound in the form of last year’s Ghost Pipe flower appearing now as an intricate woody capsule.
Consider the American Beech with its canopy a bit askew, especially when compared to its neighbors.
And then gaze down the trunk until claw marks left behind years ago by a very hungry Black Bear make themselves visible.
Look with awe at the granite so evenly and naturally sliced and delight in the hues once hidden within now on view.
Embrace the panorama from a windswept summit where turbines producing energy define a nearby ridge line.
See also the old mill town that continues to produce paper products from its location nestled among mountains.
Note also the bronze geological monument used by surveyors since 1879 for mapping purposes as our forebears laid stake to the land that we can never truly claim.
And on the way home, don’t forget to take a few steps toward the barn that features memories of the past.
Try to make time to be present in the moment and see the wonders of life that surround us. Be awakened by reading the signs and not just whizzing by, no matter how or where you travel across the Earth.
Preheat your outdoor oven to 55˚ Fahrenheit or so.
Prepare several mixing bowls that include wetland scenes.
It might be best to include a vernal pool for one.
A brook for another.
And maybe even a stream.
Locate a butterfly that overwinters as a mature adult, such as this Eastern Comma.
To be sure you’ve chosen this species and not its anglewing cousin, the Question Mark, look for the punctuation mark on its outer hind wing. Drizzle it with sunshine.
Toss in the most minute and earliest blooming flower you can find, probably that of a Beaked Hazelnut with its spray of magenta styles.
Pour in some water from the Pitcher (plant) and in the process, let the sugars that are currently moving into new leaves as evidenced by the red color from pigments called anthocyanins sweeten the recipe and add some energy.
Taste the mixture and decide if you need to add more sap the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker will gladly supply.
Season the mixture with the conk-la-ree of the male Red-winged Blackbird.
Top with the sky blue reflection of a local river.
Use a Painted Turtle shell to store your concoction.
When you are ready to taste, be like a Garter Snake . . .
and dive in quickly with forked tongue.
Enjoy every bit of the wonderful flavor and embrace the texture and scent for this early spring pie won’t last long.
Rainy days that turn into sunny days are the best days of spring. And today was one such. That meant, of course, that I needed to visit one of my favorite wet spots.
Along the way, because it was raining, I noticed the White Pines were foaming at the mouth! What really occurred: sap salts and acids that had accumulated on the bark’s surface mixed together in the rain and formed soapy suds. The rainbow colors and hexagonal forms–worth a natural engineering wonder.
And upon a moss covered tree stump . . . a million more tiny bubbles dangling from reproductive capsules creating a hint of the future.
At the pool, one might say raindrops distorted the reflections captured on the surface. Or perhaps they enhanced it with a design that was ever evolving.
Bubbles kept forming as the raindrops fell . . . and then they’d burst. Just prior to their disappearance, however, they mirrored the canopy above the pool.
Oh, and do you spy what I spied? Wood Frog eggs . . . tadpoles in the making. But all the while that I stood there, and it was a while as the rain fell, not a frog did I spot.
As the skies cleared late in the afternoon, again I headed to the pool. Click on the arrow above and you should hear what I heard. A chorus of wrucks.
Of course, once I stood beside the pool, the frogs had all disappeared. But, with a bit of sun shining, I suddenly could see that in the last week numerous egg masses had been laid in communal style, as is the Wood Frog manner.
Some even exhibited the green hue indicating that mutualistic symbiosis, or a relationship between algae and developing embryos, was already underway. Shallow, ephemeral ponds such as this one, experience severe oxygen depletion during periods of high sunlight and warmth. The algae provides oxygen for the tadpoles, allowing them to survive longer and grow larger before metamorphosis, while the algae receive carbon dioxide from the tadpoles, which aids algal growth.
And then, ever so slowly, frogs silently floated to the surface, and waited . . . for that special woman to happen along. The fact that I had happened along, didn’t turn out to be special enough and so most were silent rather than wrucking as they waited . . . for me to disappear.
And then . . . and then the water began to boil. It took me a moment to realize what I was witnessing.
That moment expanded into about ten minutes as several male frogs tried to outwit each other and grab one female in amplexus.
She occasionally chirped her discontent, but that didn’t stop the good old boys from trying to do their thing.
Around and around they went, this threesome or foursome or fivesome, for it seemed to be an ever evolving grouping.
Her swollen belly betold the fact that she had eggs that needed to be fertilized, but which of these Romeos would win the right to externally fertilize her bounty?
They tumbled and tussled. She chirped. They tumbled and tussled some more.
They calmed down for a moment, but still no decision had been made.
And then, if you click on the arrow above and listen, you’ll hear what the frogs and I heard . . . as a Barred Owl called its “Who Cooks For You?” phrase several times. The frogs split up and I’ll never know which of the best wrucks one, but I suspect one of them finally succeeded in its quest to sire the next generation.
Dedication: This post is for Patti and Kate and Billy and Rob (Howie) and Johnny, in honor of your mom, Bobbie, who passed from this world to the next today. At the sight of each bubble that the day offered, it seemed another memory popped up. And I’m pretty sure we are all living proof that eating her raw Congo Bar dough adds years to ones life. Virtual hugs to all of you. And Tommy too.
My guy and I began this day with a list . . . of things to do and places to go, all within about 15 miles from home. Our starting point was our camp, where I wanted to do a few things inside, while he picked up branches that had fallen over the winter.
Once our chores were completed, we paused for a moment and enjoyed the view of Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain and the almost iced-out northern basin of Moose Pond.
Maybe the ice finally went out this afternoon, but the longer it stays, the better in my opinion. Not all that long ago we could predict the event to occur in mid-April, but sadly everything is happening earlier than it should.
From there we hiked up a hill on some land we own behind his store because he’d recently spotted a site he knew I’d appreciate: a carpet of Eastern Hemlock twigs. We looked up, but no porcupine was in sight.
Following a quick lunch at home, we headed off for a quick hike up Mount Tir’em where another porky tree greeted us beside the trail.
From the summit, we spied first Keoka Lake to the east, its ice still in.
And Bear Pond to the south, also still covered in ice. And yes, toward the west, that is Pleasant Mountain and the ski area of the earlier photo.
No trip up this mountain is complete without a visit to the glacial erratics that our sons, back in their youth, called The Castle. I’ve always thought of it as offering a great bear cave and so we went in search.
We did find the neighborhood bear who has been keeping an eye on this spot for a number of years now. My, what long, sharp claws you have.
In the best cave though, only this momma bear emerged and she seemed kinda friendly ;-).
Our final adventure of the day found us following several Yetis into the woods.
They led us to this tree, which bespoke a long and gnarled history.
On one side it sported a burl, that strange-looking collection of tree cells. Known as callus tissue, the burl forms in response to an environmental injury such as pruning, disease or insect damage.
On the other side, a tree spirit smiled. They often do if you take the time to look.
Its bark was so stretched that though it remained a bit corky, its diamond pattern had stretched into sinewy yet chunky snakes of furrows and ridges.
Upon the ground a shed limb ready to give nutrients back to the earth that will continue to aid the tree sat in its shadow.
Holes in the tree offered further intrigue . . .
and so my guy climbed up and looked in first.
I followed and couldn’t believe the site within. This tree is still producing leaves, thus the xylem and phloem still function, but almost entirely hollow and I fully expected to see a bear or two or a slew of raccoons in residence. Certainly, it would have created a delightful hideaway to sit and read and sketch, and watch . . . life inside and out.
By now you’ve possibly figured this is one mighty big tree . . . and I found this information about it: On October 30, 1969, the Maine Forest Service stated that it was the largest of its species in the state. And in 1976, the bicentennial year, it still held that honor. The dimensions in 1969 were these: circumference 17′ 81/4″, height 70′ and crown spread 77′. I’m not sure if any of those measurements have changed, but I learned last week that is still the biggest of its kind.
I bet you think this is about my guy, but actually, he had no part in this story. Instead, it’s a date of another kind for another species. You see, the other night a friend and I went out for a mini-Big Night. Though it hadn’t been raining long, the temp was about 42˚, and my communication with her and another friend got kinda confusing because first I said, “Let’s go,” then I said “Let’s not go till next week, “then I was afraid one hadn’t received my message so I said to the other, “Let’s go.” And so we did.
Go out that is to a local amphibian road crossing and in an hour’s time we helped six Spring Peepers cross the road. And then on the way home, we saw more and she began to drive like one who is dodging pot holes. One does what one needs to to save the amphibians.
But this isn’t about that date either.
Knowing that the peepers had been on the move, I thought I should check the vernal pool in the woods behind our home. This is former farmland that is now forested with boundaries marked by stonewalls. On March 25th, the pool still had ice on it, but by yesterday, April 1. the ice had finally gone out.
I stood by the edge and peered in, but saw nary a critter as the raindrops fell.
Late this afternoon, April 2, I again returned to the pool and as I approached I didn’t hear any “Wruck, wrucks” of a Wood Frog chorus, but I did spot movement. And so I found a rock on the northern side and waited patiently, hoping against hope that I would be rewarded with a sighting if I stayed as still as possible. Though the sun was warm, there was a brisk breeze and so the marcescent beech leaves wiggled and waggled.
Methinks the breeze was to my benefit because within five minutes frogs began to appear. And among them, this lovely canoodling couple in true Wood Frog form called amplexus. It’s such a great word and means “embrace” for embrace her he does. Notice his foreleg positioned behind hers and her bulging belly. My own excitement increased as I watched these two.
She was in complete control, or so it seemed and he held tightly as she swam from one location to another.
About four feet below me, they found a fallen branch and I wondered if I’d see her lay the eggs contained in that swollen belly that he’d fertilize externally. I certainly had paid for the right seat to watch such action. And speaking of action, do you see the red arrow in the lower right of the photo? How do you spell M-O-S-Q-U-I-T-O larvae? Think of them as tadpole food. And later–dragonfly and damselfly and bird food!
The dating couple weren’t the only residents showing their faces and among all the others were two who had also decided to hang out in my corner, this lighter colored Wood Frog being one . . .
and this darker colored another. Wood Frogs range in color from light tan to dark brown. It’s difficult to differentiate the gender of this species, but I’ve read that the lighter colored ones tend to be females.
Maybe that is true. The darker colored frog certainly wanted to test such a hypothesis. And so he grasped the lighter colored one.
The lighter frog seemed to say this was not a marriage made in heaven.
But still the darker tried.
And tried some more.
But a couple of clucks from the lighter colored frog and at last it was released. Male Wood Frogs do not discriminate when breeding. Anything that moves near the surface of the water is grabbed in hopes that it will eventually lay eggs that the male can then fertilize, including other males and also uninterested females. Maybe he didn’t have the right vocal quality.
At last it was time for the lighter colored frog to relax, all the while hoping for the right mate to come along. Meanwhile, the canoodling couple had found an oak leaf under which to take its interaction. Do you see them?
How about now? I had to wonder if she was laying eggs–that action I so wanted to see, but perhaps she wanted it to be a private moment between the two of them. If so, I had to wonder about their choice of placement, for from my experience of visiting this pool for the last 30 years, this is the side that dries up first and egg masses often end up drying up upon suspended branches that may be in the water now, but won’t be in a month or so if we don’t get enough rain.
At last the dating couple came out from under the leaf and returned to the branch of their original intention. As they did so, I also thought about how this pool has been part of my classroom for so long and the lessons it has offered me. Today was no exception.
And then they took off again, she swimming as he clung on, insistent that he would be the one to fertilize her eggs.
For some reason they chose a rock to next spend time beside and I questioned their choice once more. But . . . they were brilliant to be mating so early for this is a pool that dries up super early and the sooner their eggs are fertilized and laid, the more success that their offspring will survive. That early drying of this pool always leaves me wondering how any frogs and salamanders can possibly return to this particular “natal” place to breed in years following, until I remember that when these species sense that the end draws near, they have the ability to develop more quickly. Pretty darn amazing.
Suddenly, the water boiled on the other side of the pool and I looked over to see what was going on. It appeared that one female was the focus of several males and a ruckus and some clucking ensued as they sorted out the winner.
Meanwhile, the canoodlers continued their tour in search of the right place to deposit an egg mass they’ll never see develop. Such is the life of an adult Wood Frog–no parenting responsibilities to consider. She’ll leave the pond tonight probably. He’ll hang out for another week or two in hopes of scoring again.
In the meantime, plenty of others bide their time with hope on the horizon. They, too, want to be part of the gene pool that permeates from this special place.
At last it was time for me to leave as the battery of my camera had lost its juice. The canoodlers, however, still had much more juice to share on this very first date of a new season.
If I can’t have an 18-inch snowstorm in the next six months, then give me a wetland. Look for me looking for other first dates in this place and other wetlands going forward. I can’t wait to see what awaits.
We do LOVE winter, my guy and I, but really, we appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where we can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to the next.
And so today, with the temp in the low 20˚s and wind chill making it feel even colder, we donned our micro-spikes and headed up a snowmobile trail to begin our search for the current season.
Icicles that we were sure had formed overnight, since the weekend temps had been much warmer, formed along a stream that flowed toward Slippery Brook, for our trail of choice was in the White Mountain National Forest.
In other seasons, one can either drive to our destination, or go via snowmobile, but for the time being the gates to Forest Road 17 in Chatham, New Hampshire are closed to vehicular traffic. That was fine with us.
At about 2.5 miles, we took a slight detour to take in the sounds and views of Slippery Brook.
It was there on a crossbeam of the bridge where my guy was about to sit that I noticed British Soldier, a common lichen with bright red caps that remain so year-round, but have been hidden from view by snow all winter. It was like meeting a cheery old friend for the first time . . . this sighting.
Along the road also grew many a Hobblebush, another old friend, their naked leaf and flower buds swelling in anticipation of what is to come.
And then we spotted these prints, made by the largest mammal around and though we saw more in other places, this set of four made us wonder if the moose had come in for a landing and then flown off again.
At last we reached the trailhead, and as we approached the pond we noted an immediate dip in temperature, plus an increase in wind. Thankfully, we’d expected such and had dressed for the occasion. That said, it’s hard to search for spring when your cheeks sting with the wind.
A rocky and rooty trail that circles the pond, though fairly flat, requires hikers’ attention at all times of the year and today was no exception. That said, the trail itself offered a snippet of spring.
We reached Mountain Pond at last and by the outlet found some open water, but other than a few chickadees and nuthatches, there were no birds or other forms of wildlife to spy upon as we’d hoped.
Even so, our focus was rewarded in other forms, such as other buds growing larger, like upon this Speckled Alder. And notice that lateral leaf scar–a happy face indeed.
The longer male and shorter female catkins, which are the flowers of the alder, swayed in the breeze, waiting for a future date when they could do just that . . . date.
A few actually seemed ready to mate, though not with each other. While the pendulous male flowers open and extend when their pollen is ready to be dispersed, just above them the tiny, maroon female flowers “bloom” at the same time on the same shrub. In this case position counts and so with the female flowers above the males, self-pollination is discouraged and cross-pollination occurs instead thanks to wind.
Also beside the pond’s shore, the woody structures of last year’s Rhodora flowers, but also its buds enlarging by the day, with promises of exquisite displays making us suddenly want the time to push the clock ahead.
The same was true for the Sheep Laurel, that plump pinkish bud ready to burst open when the time is just right.
As we headed back toward the Forest Road at last, we began to notice exposed trails of Red Squirrels that led from one spruce cone cache to another. Those feisty ones were quiet today, but we suspected they are happy to have more food offerings on the horizon.
Nine miles later as we once again passed by the stream with the icicles and noticed that more had formed, we realized we’d found spring on this Mondate . . . she’s just taking her time and we should follow her example and be patient as this next season unfolds.
It took us a while to get out the door today, but perhaps that was because we knew we weren’t traveling far and we’d have plenty of daylight in which to explore.
Today’s destination: Sebago Lake State Park, a locale whose existence we take for granted and seldom make time to actually visit. But when we do . . . ah. We hiked over five miles today, with a few false starts, but never really getting lost.
It was a blustery but beautiful day and conditions switched from snow to ice to puddles to ice under water to bare ground. And somehow, at exactly noon we reached the summit of the Lookout Trail, where a picnic table painted brown from my guy’s hardware store awaited. Looks like maintenance will need to return to the store for some touchups this spring.
After lunch, we found our way down to the water, which in this neck of the woods looks like the ocean. That said, the Atlantic Ocean is only about thirty minutes away. Sebago Lake State Park, at 1,400 acres, opened in 1938. The lake itself, at 45-square miles, is Maine’s second largest. It’s a place with diverse natural communities, which makes it a jewel.
All of that is fine and well, but my favorite habitat of all we saved until the end. Horseshoe Bog on the park’s west side always has something to offer. It’s called Horseshoe Bog because of its shape. The question was: what would today’s offerings be?
It soon became evident when we began to notice lodges.
And chew sticks floating in a raft-like manner in a wee bit of open water. Because beavers don’t hibernate, they cache or stockpile sticks underwater so they can nibble on them once the pond freezes over in winter.
As pure herbivores, beavers subsist solely on woody and aquatic vegetation.
As we continued along the path, we paused frequently to admire their previous works, some of which hadn’t been successful in terms of felling the trees. Yet.
Others seemed like attempts to perhaps consider on some future date.
And still others made us feel as if we were walking through an art gallery for so unique were their forms.
Though a beaver will chew on any tree, its preferred species include alder, aspen, birch, maple, poplar and willow.
I’m always in awe when I think about how beavers obtain their food by toppling large trees with no other tools than those specially adapted incisors and powerful lower jaw muscles. Even after years of chewing wood, their teeth don’t become too warn and never stop growing. The four incisors (two top; two bottom) are self-sharpening due to hard orange enamel on the front and a softer dentin on the back. That means the softer backside wears faster, creating a chisel-like cutting surface. And chisel they do.
Moving rather slowly, for I’d asked my guy to change his pace when we began to circle the bog, we counted five lodges, and figured that at least two of them were active. The two bookmarking this photo we weren’t sure about.
Suddenly we spotted some action in the water and my guy caught a glimpse of a critter that swam under the ice and out of our sight. All I saw were the ripples on the water. But . . . that meant that we stopped. For a while. And in flew a small flock of Pine Siskins.
And so they garnered my attention for a few moments.
When I wasn’t searching for more beaver action, that is.
At last we reached another lodge and both of us chose trees on either side of it to hide beside and remain quiet. I have to say that I’m so impressed with how still my guy can be . . . thank goodness for that earlier half-second sighting because he was as eager as I was to spy more activity.
Unfortunately, it was in that moment that my guy finally walked toward me that the beaver did show. He missed the sighting, but for me, it was well worth the wait on this first Mondate of spring.
I’ve been meaning to thank you for serving as our morning rooster all these years. In a couple of months, as the days dawn earlier than on the cusp of this vernal equinox, I know my guy will curse your call, but I admire your tenacity to return morning after morning and practice your drum roll on a snag by the stone wall closest to our bedroom.
Your sounding board of choice resonates with each strike of your beak and I’m sure the volley of taps, sounding like someone is rapping on the back door, can be heard at least a half mile away.
What is amazing to me is that you have the ability to tap at all. But I’ve learned that your tongue actually wraps around your skull, thus dissipating and directing the energy around the brain. Plus, you have a sponge-like bone positioned in the fore and back of your skull to absorb much of the force from the repeated impact of constantly hammering against wood.
After several rounds of repetition, you take a break and stretch your neck away from the snag . . .
and sway your head . . .
in a 45˚ arc, a movement known as a bill wave. It seems to serve two purposes: as an announcement of your territory to another of your kind; or a message to the one you are trying to woo with hopes she’ll accept a date.
Of course, in the mix of all this action, you also make time to preen. After all, should a mistress fly in, you need to look handsome–an easy task on your part.
I’ve read that your territory ranges from 150 – 200 acres and give thanks that we live in an area that satisfies your needs and those of your kin.
In winter, your feeding trees are easy to spot, either by the oblong holes chiseled into the tree trunks . . .
or piles of wood chips at the base of a tree, providing a contrast with the snow.
I love it when you even rework a hole you’d started when the tree was standing. So many don’t realize that it’s not unlike you to use your tail as a third leg like a stool and stand on the ground to seek the goodness within.
When the opportunity to watch you work presents itself, I take it and stand silently below while you chip away.
What I can’t see is your method of feeding, as you pursue the tunnels of carpenter ants and snag them with your long, barbed tongue covered as it is with a sticky solution that works rather like tacky glue.
BUT, one of my great joys, as some know, is searching among the chips you’ve excavated to discover if your feeding efforts were successful. Yes, Mr. Pileated, I actually feel well rewarded when I discover packets of scat you defecated. While we humans get rid of waste nitrogen as urea in our urine, which is diluted with water, I have come to realize that you cannot fly with a full bladder and therefore must dispose of uric acid, plus the indigestible parts of your meals in combination via the cloaca or vent located under your tail. Knowing this helps me locate your scat because I first look for the white coating, which is the uric acid, and then I spy the exoskeletons of the ants that you feed upon in winter located inside the cylinder.
Sometimes, your scat doesn’t make it all the way to the ground, but rather lands on a branch below your foraging site.
Of course, it’s great fun when others are present, to whip out my scat shovel and scoop some up so they may take a closer look.
I did that just yesterday with a group of students, some of whom fully embraced the experience, which also gladdened my heart.
Another thing I love to spot as a result of your foraging efforts, sir, is the winter coloration of sap that flows from Eastern White Pine trees you’ve excavated. In warmer weather, the sap is amber in color, but there must be some winter chemistry that I do not understand, which turns it shades of violet and blue.
Oh so many shades of blue. And once blue, it doesn’t seem to regain the amber hue, at least from what I’ve seen. But then again, somewhere in this world, there’s one that does. Or many more than one.
Noticing the droplets of fresh sap yesterday, I decided to take a closer look, and spied not only spring tails stuck to its sticky surface, but also a small winter crane fly that will be forever suspended . . . unless something comes along for a snack.
When I checked this morning, it was still stuck in place.
As I complete this letter to you, Mr. Pileated, I once again want to express my appreciation for your part in this world, for creating nesting sites that others, such as small songbirds, may use, and how you help the trees in the forest by contributing to their decomposition, for as much as some think that you and your kin are killing the trees, the trees are already dying due to insect infestations, and your work will eventually help them fall to the ground, add nutrients to replace what they had used, and provide a nursery upon which other trees may grown.
And I want my readers to know that your bill waving has paid off for this morning as I watched and listened to you, in a quick turn you flew off giving your Woody Woodpecker call as you sailed away and in flew your date. She landed on the same snag you always use, gave a few taps of her own, preened for a moment or two, and then she also turned and headed in the direction you had taken, and I can only hope that the two of you have been foraging together ever since.
Oh, and that if there are any offspring from this relationship, you’ll name your first born for me.
P.S. BP, this post is dedicated to you. Hugs from your non-hugging friend.
When GLLT Tuesday Trackers meet at a property, we never know what animal sign we’ll need to interpret or what greater understanding we’ll gain. Today was no different and we had a few surprises along the way.
What we’ve all learned is that we need to take a bird’s eye view and consider where we are, whether it be forest or field or wetland, look at how the mammal is moving and what type of pattern it is creating as it moves, get down and count toes, look for nail marks and notice other idiosyncrasies, and then follow the trail for a ways, looking at the prints in different light, or under different trees. Often under hemlock trees we find the best prints because there’s not as much snow since the boughs hold it.
And so today’s adventure began with us following this particular animal and debating—do we see claw marks, is the overall shape round or oval, is there a lead toe, is the ridge creating a C on its side or an X between the toes and heel pad? It took some time, but we finally found a few prints that gave us confidence it was a bobcat we were following. So, where did the bobcat lead us?
Our first stop was along a stream where he walked beside the edge—about two or three feet above the open water for such is the snow height—but then paused for a moment and seemed to step down because he was curious about something. And so were these three, Pam, Dawn, and Emily, for they spied something in the water below.
From our position on the opposite bank, a few of us saw what we thought they were looking at. “It’s furry,” Dawn told us.
She wanted to go down into the water because it didn’t appear to be all that deep, but still that would have meant she’d be wet and so Emily hunted around and found a branch to use as a poker instead.
As Dawn wiggled the stick, all the time exclaiming that it was big, whatever it was, and trying to turn it over, Emily and Pam grabbed her to make sure she didn’t turn into an otter and slide down, though I suspected she would have laughed about the experience.
We all watched intently, making suggestions about the critter’s identity while Dawn continued to poke at it and move it. Mammal? Skull? Full body?
The coloration was definitely unique, but it is winter after all, so the freezing temperatures and fact that it was in water may have altered its appearance.
Those were our thoughts anyway, and we voiced our opinions, until . . . Dawn flipped it over and saw . . . a tag.
So hoping for a kill site where the bobcat may have dined, instead we found ourselves looking at . . . a stuffed owl.
Peter took Pippi’s hiking pole and aided Dawn in rescuing the sopping wet bird and if you look closely you may see water dripping from it.
Our chuckles must have rippled through the forest as we laughed at our great find. Mighty trackers are we. But . . . we think the bobcat was almost fooled as well. Almost.
The owl then flew from Peter’s hands to a perch and there it shall remain, or so we think.
For a few minutes we returned to and continued upon a logging road, and then the bobcat called for our attention again and so we did follow it. As I said to the group, normally I’d insist that we backtrack the animal so we don’t put stress on it, but the tracks were at least a day old.
This time the bobcat led us to a hemlock tree. Do you see the debris under the tree?
How about now? And stained snow by the trunk?
There were even little brown commas atop the snow that could easily be mistaken for hemlock cones. But rather, they were a form of scat.
Like us, the bobcat had been here, but for some reason he chose to pass by.
Whenever we spy downed hemlock branches, comma-shaped scat, and lots of urine at the base of a tree, we know to look up and so we did. High above sat a male porcupine. Males are known to stay in a tree during the day while females typically return to the den each morning and head back to the tree of dining choice at twilight. Here’s are two curious things: 1. the bobcat passed by—they will go after a porcupine, but perhaps this one was too high up. (Fishers are a porcupine’s #1 enemy.) 2. we looked all around and couldn’t find any porcupine tracks. If we had, we might have followed them to see if we could locate the den. But, since we couldn’t we came to the assumption that this porcupine has been up in the tree since at least our last major snowstorm on Friday, February 25.
Back on the bobcat’s trail we did go, being stymied occasionally because though we knew it was a bobcat, there were a few prints that resembled a deer and we came up with all kinds of stories about flying deer and other critters of our imaginations.
But always, we’d find a few classic prints and again feel 100% confident of our ID. Well, not ours, but the bobcat’s.
So where would it lead us next? To a spruce tree all covered with sap . . . and fur.
Some of the hair was dark and coarse.
In other spots it was redder and softer. After much debate, and noting that it was all up and down the tree from just above snow level to at eye sight and maybe a bit above, I think we all agreed it was a bear marking tree. Bears sometimes nip and bit trees and rub their backs on them and their hair gets stuck on splinters or in this case also sap.
According to North American Bear Center: “Favorite trees have little ground vegetation to prevent a bear from approaching them, and they often lean slightly toward the trail. Look for hair caught in the bark or wood 2 to 5 feet high and look for bites 5½ to 6½ feet high.
The hair often bleaches to brown or blond after a few months but can still be distinguished as bear hair from its length and appearance. Guard hairs are typically coarse and 3-4 inches long and have a narrow base that may be wavy. Bears are shedding their winter fur when much of the marking is done in spring or early summer, so the bark may also catch underfur, which is thin, wavy and shorter.”
Two feet up made sense given the snow’s depth.
You’d think that would have been enough, but again we wondered: where will the bobcat lead us?
This time it was a snapped snag and we noticed he’d walked along the top of it.
And then one among us spotted this. Brown snow and more hair. We were sure it was a kill site. Yes, as trackers we really like kill sites because they are fun to interpret and we appreciate the energy passed from one animal to another via the predator/prey relationship.
For a few minutes we took turns walking around the site trying to take in everything presented to us, including some hair that had fallen into the snag’s hollow.
I think it was the two=toned hair that helped us figure this one out. Plus the fact that there was no blood. This was a spot where the bobcat sat down, thus the rather tamped down snow that had turned brown. The warmth of his body helped to flatten it and in so sitting, some of his hair, which is black and white, got stuck, similar to what we see in deer beds at this time of freezing and warming temps. The mammals are beginning to shed their winter coats and last week we had an unusually warm day so change is in the air.
We admired his hunting spot and balance beam. And then it was time for us to leave.
But those grins remained on our faces for we were grateful we’d taken the time to see where the bobcat might lead us at GLLT’s Charles Pond Reserve today.
The forest behind our home has long served as my classroom and this past week has been no different.
Upon several occasions, through the doorway I stepped. My intention initially was to stalk some porcupines I’d tracked previously in hopes of finding at least one of them in a tree. But the three dens that had been active two weeks ago were empty.
Near one located almost a mile from home, however, I spied squirrel middens dotting the landscape. This was in the late afternoon of Wednesday, February 23, a day when the high temperature broke records and reached 62˚ in western Maine.
For a brief second I spied the squirrel responsible for the middens, but then it scrambled up a hemlock and disappeared from my sight.
And so I . . . I decided to try to examine its territory and exclaimed when I realized that because of the warm temperature, its tunnels had been exposed. This particular one led to one of its food storage units, a cache of hemlock cones stored under a downed tree.
Into the mix it was more than the squirrel, for I spied vole tunnels and deer prints. So here’s the thing, red squirrels tunnel through the deep snow to get to their caches. Of course, they also leap across the snow. Voles, on the other hand, are much shier of sky space because they are everyone’s favorite food. They tunnel between the ground and the snow in what’s technically called the subnivean zone and typically we don’t see their exposed runways until spring. But 62˚is like an early summer day ’round these parts. Oh, and do you see that same downed tree from the last photo? Keep it in mind, for it plays an important role in this story.
A vole’s tunnel is about an inch across and the only thing I had for a reference point was a set of keys. I was traveling light that day.
Likewise, the squirrel’s tunnel was about three inches in width.
My next move was to walk the perimeter of the squirrel activity in order to gain a better understanding of its territory. All told, it is about 30′ x 50′, and located under several tall pines and hemlocks that create a substantial canopy. On the fringe of this particular neighborhood live a few red maple and balsam fir saplings.
I had to wonder if the squirrel was still in the hemlock or had moved to a different location via its tree limb highway while I was looking down and all around.
Having figured that out, I returned to the downed tree, for not only did it serve as a food storage or cache below, but the top side was the dining table/refuse pile, aka midden. Obviously the hemlock had provided a great source of food–a good thing given that it seemed to be the only hard mast available this year.
There were other middens scattered about, but I really liked this one upon a stump, which showed the pines had at least offered a few treats not yet devoured. The thing is, red squirrels like to dine on high places, whether it be upon a downed tree, stump, or even up on a limb. That way they can see their predators approach and make a mad dash to a tunnel or up a tree trunk.
Two days later, on Friday, February 25, seven or eight inches of snow fell and again in the later afternoon I ventured into the woods to check on the squirrel’s activity. Sometimes during storms mammals hunker down but by the number of prints visible, I knew that this one hadn’t. Its tunnels had some snow in them, but the boughs above kept much of the snow from landing on the ground.
The curious thing for me was that though there was a lot of activity by the downed tree, I couldn’t locate a single midden. Even if the squirrel had been dining on a tree limb, surely some cone scales and cobs would have fallen.
It had also climbed its favorite tree, the one where I spied it on Wednesday, but again, no sign of food devoured.
After my guy and I spent the morning and early afternoon tramping four miles from home to a swamp and back, I decided to head back out to check on the squirrel while my guy went for a run. Speaking of running, as I approached the squirrel’s territory, I watched it run across the snow and zoom up the hemlock and never spied it again.
So I turned to the tree stump–it was covered with Friday’s snow, though there were tracks around the base of it. What I loved is what I’d missed on Friday–barbed wire. This was all once farmland and obviously I was standing on a boundary. It was actually a boundary for the squirrel as well, since this marked an edge of its territory.
Near the red maple saplings I found evidence of some fresh tunneling, albeit not under the snow, but through it, which is also typical. Perhaps the squirrel was dining within and had hidden its middens.
I stepped over to the downed tree and looked under in a southerly direction, curious to see barely a sign of the cache that had been so evident on the first day.
Looking north, it was more of the same.
That is . . . until it wasn’t. A hint of color captured my attention. Feathers?
No. Hair. From a red squirrel, whose hair hues can range from gray to brown to red. A fluffy tail no more. The thing is that squirrels sometimes loose their tails to predators, or even parts of the tail from a fracas during a territorial fight with one of its own. Another cause may be a tree trying to snag the tail just as speckled alder and winterberries and balsam fir tried to snag my hat repeatedly on our tramp this morning.
Even upon the downed tree . . . a little tuft. No tracks atop the tree. And no signs of feeding.
I looked around, searching for predator tracks and instead found the snow lobster instead. This was a place of squirrel and vole and deer and hare. But not a predator in sight.
And so I looked up, thinking that the hair was the result of an avian predator. My hope was to find a few strands dangling from a tree. Or some other evidence. Nothing. Oh, how I wished GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers were with me, for they are an inquisitive group and ask great questions and process the whole picture in a complete manner. Together we share a brain and I needed that sharing.
Alas, they were not, but I snatched some of the hair and will certainly share it with them in the morn.
In the meantime, that’s my tale of the squirrel’s tail. And if you have ideas or considerations, please let me know.
Seven years ago today I gave birth–rather a record at my age. It was February 21, 2015, when I welcomed wondermyway into the world. It’s been quite an adventure that we’ve shared together and one of my favorite things to do each year to celebrate is to take a look back.
As I reviewed this past year, the reality hit home. I’ve written less than half the number of posts of any other year. That all boils down to one thing. Time. There’s never enough. Oh, I’ve taken the photos, and had the adventures, but I haven’t made the time to write about all of them. Sometimes, they sit off to the side in my brain and I think I’ll use some of them together in a cumulative post, and there they sit.
That all said, I’ve had more views and visitors this past year than any other. Views = 24,955; Visitors = 16,994. Followers = 701. And over the course of wondermyway’s lifespan, the blog has received 121,765 hits.
An enormous heart-felt thanks to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. I get excited to share with you and love hearing from you.
In case you are wondering, my guy and I did have a Mondate this afternoon–along Bemis River and then up to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.
It was here at the falls that we celebrated wondermyway.com with a couple of those Bavarian Haus chocolates we purchased last Monday.
And now for a look at a few excerpts from posts I made during the past year, beginning with March 2021. To read or re-read the entire post, click on the link below each photo.
It took me by surprise, this change of seasons. Somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go.
Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.
But . . . this spring will be different.
How so? And what invitation still stands? Click on the link under the beetle’s photo to find the answers.
For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine.
MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.
The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.
Our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond. I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak.
He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.
This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space.
But . . . you’ll have to click on the link under the Bald Eagle photo to figure out what our best sighting was.
Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all, about the circle of life.
A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool.
Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days.
Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed.
And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool.
The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner.
Ah, but how does the story end? Click on the link under the photo to find out.
I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.
Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.
Click on the link under the photo to see the story of the Cicadas unfold.
Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.
There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.
But why the title, “Not Just An Insect”? Ahhh, you know what you’ll need to do to find the answer.
Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”
The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”
The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”
We did figure it out. Over and over again. This collection happens to include places that make us happy and many of our family members and just looking back puts a smile on my face. Oh, and the selfie–taken at the same place where we went today–only in September 2021.
Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.
This post is full of information of an historic and natural nature. Go ahead, click on the link above to learn more.
The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.
But what could good hair possibly have to do with this Mondate? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.
So how is this stuffed beaver connected to a gory story?
Our date began at the Bavarian Chocolate House in North Conway, New Hampshire, because we’d decided the other day to shop for a gift together and in our minds nothing defines love more than chocolate. It was a great surprise to find a friend of ours, who works in the local branch of the shop, behind the counter in New Hampshire and so we didn’t even have to say “dark chocolate” for each choice we made. And she introduced us to the chocolatier. Then she proceeded to fill the largest box for us. It will last a few days.
That done, we drove on to Big Pines Natural Area in Tamworth, New Hampshire, which I’d just learned about recently. After eating sandwiches at the trailhead, and topping those off with . . . chocolate, we donned our micro-spikes to begin our venture into this old growth forest of white pines.
About one-tenth of a mile in, a bridge spans Swift River and on the other side, there’s a loop trail through the forest and along the river, plus a spur to the summit of Great Hill. Unfortunately, half the loop is closed until spring 2022 because of major erosion, so it was an out-and-back tour for us.
Hiking up, we soon found ourselves among the behemoths that are probably about 200 years old and about 150 feet tall. They are giants worthy of our admiration and so we did. And we hugged a few. Well, I told my guy we were just measuring it to see how many of our wing spans it took to encircle the tree. But really, it was a hug. For this one, 3 arm lengths plus one extra elbow to finger tip.
The bark of an extremely mature Eastern White Pine, aka Pinus strobus, (or perhaps it’s really the other way around), forms elongated plates that would make an interesting fabric pattern for a dress or skirt if I were so inclined to design and wear such.
In the furrows between the plates, layers upon layers of dead bark gather, each having served its purpose of protecting the tree from brisk winter days like today, and hot and humid days of summer before being replaced by the next. In a certain way, those layers reminded me of an oyster shell standing upright.
Had the tree that we stood before been about 50 to 100 years younger, the plates would have been covered with horizontal lines that are spaced so evenly they could almost be notebook paper. And perhaps that is their purpose–for they have noted so much during their lifetime and it’s all written down, we only need to decipher the story.
On this mighty tree, however, the lines had all but disappeared and in some places scales of bark had been shed.
Eventually, we moved on to another tree that was about 3 times our arm span plus half the distance from my elbow to the tips of my fingers in circumference.
We felt rather tiny as we looked skyward, and then we hiked along a spur to Great Hill and its fire tower.
I thought I’d taken a photo of the fire tower at the summit, but maybe my frozen fingers weren’t working in that moment and ran back into my mittens while missing the shot. We climbed up into the cab, where the Tamworth Conservation Commission has posted signs on all four sides of the surrounding mountains.
Mount Chocorua’s unique and craggy profile brought back memories of a summer hike up the Champney Trail to the summit, and my Nervous Nellie reaction.
Through another window frame we spied our hometown mountain’s long ridge line. A few mountains always help us to gain our bearings, this being Pleasant Mountain, but Mount Washington, Mount Kearsarge North, and Chocorua also give us a sense of where we are in the world–at least in our little speck of the world.
On the way back down, we paused again at the pine of our initial admiration. My, what legs it has. And so many.
We snuggled into it, in hopes of showing off its immense size, but realized the photo didn’t do it justice.
At last we crossed over Swift River again, followed the “easy” trail, which wasn’t so easy since we were the first to travel it in the deep snow, and we wore micro-spikes rather than snowshoes, but anyway, we soon finished up and treated ourselves to a . . . chocolate.
Driving home, I had an inspired moment. Neither of us had ever visited the Madison Boulder. In fact, we weren’t really sure where in Madison, New Hampshire, it was located, but decided we were up for the adventure. And . . . we found it.
We had no idea what to expect–certainly not a rock the size of a two-story house.
This glacial erratic was dropped during the most recent ice advance that began about 2.6 million years ago and ended 12,000 years ago.
Again, we posed in hopes of showing off the size of this boulder, but we knew it wasn’t the right perspective.
And so I hugged the boulder. Exactly how many hugs would it take for us to encircle it?
Well, consider this, which we learned from signs at the kiosk: In addition to the snow, “we weren’t able to see the entire thing because its base is buried up to ten feet deep in the soil upon which it rests. With this in mind, the Madison Boulder measures 23 feet in height, 37 feet from front to back, and 85 feet from left to right.” My guy did the math and said it would take 45 lengths of our arm spans to embrace it.
Do you want to know about weight? According to the kiosk sign: “Because a cubic foot of Conway Granite weighs approximately 164.86 lbs., we can calculate the approximate weight of this irregularly shaped object. Current estimates (I like that they state “current” because new information always emerges as we learn more) put its weight at 5,963 tons.”
“It’s believed that the Madison Boulder was probably plucked from Whitten Ledge, less than 2 miles to the northwest, which is made of Conway Granite. The ice transported the boulder, smoothing its edges, and left it on a different type of rock, called Concord Granite. A glacial boulder sitting on bedrock of a different type is known as a glacial erratic.”
Can you see my guy as he came around the bend of the boulder? It dwarfed him as it should because it’s the largest known glacial erratic in North America and a National Natural Landmark.
We were both dwarfed by the immensity of the trees and the boulder and certainly LOVE is something that will always make us feel smaller in the bigger context of the world. But a root entwined within the roots of a toppled Big Pine sent a message from the universe that no heart is perfect and yet all are precisely that.
The biggest box of chocolates. Big Pines. The largest known glacial erratic in North America.
From our heart to yours–Happy Oversized Valentine Mondate!
Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.
For those who are still with me, here’s the scoop. Last Wednesday during a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk on Groundhog Day, where shadows were the main focus, and yes, Lovell Lil, the beaver, did spy her’s and predicted six more weeks of winter, a group of us noticed a pile of feathers on the far side of a brook we snowshoed beside. (Notice how I used this photo as an intro so that those who didn’t want to deal with the aforementioned gore could exit with a beaver image in their minds?)
Here’s how it all began. First, a few of us glimpsed a large bird that we thought was an owl, fly off with something in its mouth. Though we were supposed to be looking for shadows, our nature distraction disorder (NDD being the best kind of disorder to possess) took over and we decided to walk quietly in hopes that we might spy the owl in a tree. Imagine a group of curious people on snowshoes attempting to walk quietly. But we did. Or so we thought. Until three ducks flew up out of the brook and headed in the same direction as the owl.
Shortly after, we spotted this scene and two of us decided that once the public hike ended, we’d find our way to the other side and try to decipher the story of the feathers and the blood and the slides. I was sure I knew the predator.
As we approached, we spotted wing marks at the base of a tree.
What we’d seen from the other side was the plucking station where the predator had pulled the feathers off to get to the meaty part of its avian meal.
Once the bird was plucked, then it dragged it up the hill and sat down to dine behind the tree. Do you see the circular area where the predator left an impression. I’m sure the prey was not at all impressed, though by this time it was . . . dead.
Here’s another look from the dining table down toward the plucking site and the brook below.
Of course, I need to give you a closer look–at the duck’s entrails. I often find these left behind at a kill site and wonder why. Do they not taste good? Is there some sort of bacteria that makes them indigestible? Or do they not offer any discernible nutrition?
Another body part not to be overlooked was the foot with its tendons still attached that sat on the dinner table beside the entrails. Can you see the webbing between the toes? That confirmed our ID that the prey was a duck. But who was the predator? We looked around for mammal prints and found none.
What we did find was a slide. Actually there were a couple of slides. And as I often do, I wanted to confidently say that an otter was the predator. But . . . rather than seeing otter tracks in any of the slides, there were wing marks beside them. From the duck? Or someone else?
We hunted around as we tried to decipher the story. It appeared that quite a struggle had taken place.
And no feather had gone unplucked.
The bright red blood was quite fresh and I could just imagine the pain the duck endured.
While most of the blood was at the plucking station, there was some on a small mound on the brook and again I wondered: was that where the initial attack occurred?
As I said, we found no signs of a mammal, but we did find large splatters or splays of bird feces. Birds don’t produce urine and instead excrete nitrogenous wastes in the form of uric acid, which emerges as a white paste for most.
Fellow tracker, Dawn, and I also found several long shots of excrement that I cannot explain, but perhaps the owl had spent some time up in the tree?
I guess by now you’ve figured out that our assumption was that the owl we saw fly off was the predator. That’s the story we’re telling anyway about how this particular duck lost its tail and its life.
But . . . think of it this way: Plants the duck fed on were primary producers who used energy from the sun to produce their own food in the form of glucose. The primary producers were eaten by the duck, a primary consumer. The duck was then eaten by the owl, a secondary consumer. Who knows how the duck’s tale will actually end because we don’t know who might eat the owl. In the midst of it all, however, energy flowed and in this case may continue to flow from one trophic level, or level of the food chain, to the next.
I know you expected a Mondate, and my guy and I did explore Laudholm Farm in Wells, Maine, today as I prepped for a Maine Master Naturalist field trip related to tree bark and buds, but the story of the duck and owl have been forming in my brain for a few days. And then this morning another tracker sent me this email:
Subject: Tracking Forensics:
Weird thoughts in the early morning…
I was thinking about the Tracking Tuesdays that you lead on the GLLT properties and about how similar they are to all those CSI shows – coming in a day or two after the events have occurred and trying to piece together who was there and what happened. From seemingly little information you figure out who was there, what they were doing, where the gang hangs out, and sometimes who killed whom.
Bring in the TV cameras!
That’s when I knew I should take a chance with the blood and guts story. Nature can seem brutal, but it’s all part of the system.
Dedication: This one is for Pam and Bob Katz for leading the Shadows Hike that led us to make this discovery; for Dawn Wood who helped me interpret the site; and for Joe Scott who sent the email. Bring on the TV cameras indeed!
Since Kenan hadn’t yet delivered the amount of snow we were hoping for in western Maine, and shoveling seemed like a task best saved for tomorrow, we had time on our hands today. So, what should an antsy couple do, but strap on snowshoes and head out the door. Well, actually, head out the door, and then strap on the snowshoes.
Into Pondicherry Park did we venture, where even the covered bridge couldn’t provide a safe harbor from the flakes that flew sideways on the northwesterly wind.
With that in mind, we began to make a game of noticing how the flakes stuck to the trees, like these filling ridges.
Some were positioned like stacked layers of cotton balls.
Others held on despite the curvature of the trunk.
And still more formed half-hole coverings that turned woodpecker excavations into my third grade recorder (which I still have).
And then we looked for art forms such as this tangle highlighted in white.
And the boardwalk that was almost completely disguised as it snaked through the wetland.
Because we were outdoors we looked for tracks as well, but found only these prints who announced their creators.
And I practiced my snowshoe tightrope crossing–surprising myself with my prowess.
I think you’ll agree that our rosy cheeks tell the story of the stinging snow flakes–so propelled as they were by the biting wind.
At last we returned to the peace of our home and gave thanks for the warmth inside.
And then we received a couple of photos of our oldest son, who found his own way to survive much more snow in Boston.
He’s a Maine boy through and through.
It did our hearts good to know that like us, he was smiling his way through Winter Storm Kenan.
I hope you are as well. It’s almost 8pm here, and the wind speed has increased, and I know many are not as fortunate as we are to find fun in this storm. Wishing you all safety and warmth.